October 26, 2014
By Tyler Whetstone
On Wednesdays, nearly 40 children from the neighborhood surrounding Woodland Baptist Church in Jackson pile into three vans and head to the church's Awana ministry.
The children come from different backgrounds — white, black and Hispanic — they're all welcome. They play in the church's gymnasium along with the children of church members before going to classes to learn the gospel.
"We are bringing kids in from all around the neighborhood, and most of these households are a completely different culture than we're used to at church," Stephen Price, commander of the Awana ministry, said.
Woodland Baptist Church is on Wallace Road, north of North Parkway. The diverse population around the church is evidence of what a new study by USA TODAY revealed — that Madison County is one of the most diverse counties in Tennessee and will become even more diverse in the decades ahead.
The study examined data from the 2010 Census and made projections for what communities across the country will look like 50 years later, in 2060. After its research, USA TODAY developed a diversity index to measure the likelihood someone will see someone not like themselves in their community. Index scores of 0 represent no diversity, and higher scores, up to 100, represent more diversity.
Madison County's diversity index was 53 in 2010, making it the fourth most diverse county in the state, according to the study. By 2060, the county will be even more diverse, with a projected index of 72, still the fourth most diverse county in the state and more diverse than any county west of the Tennessee River.
The county will look much different in its diversity in 2060, fueled by a growth in the Hispanic and black populations and a decline in the white population, according to the USA TODAY study.
The projected changes spur both excitement and concern — excitement about the personality, depth and varied ideas diversity brings and concern about such things as education and the potential for racial tension.
Logan Hampton, the new president of Lane College, a historically black college in Jackson, said diversity should be embraced.
"I'm a true believer in strength in diversity," Hampton said. "As a person who is a football fan, you know you can't have a team of all quarterbacks, or all centers, or all middle linebackers.
"You've got to have diversity," he said. "I believe that within ethnic diversity comes a richness that we all benefit from."
Eduardo Morales is a leader in Jackson's Hispanic community who served as a chairman of the Jackson International Food and Art Festival this month. He said he is uncertain about the prospects of an increased Hispanic population.
"Well, that depends," Morales said. "If we get educated, it's good. Because what is important is not to be a big amount, but whoever is in this group [needs] to be educated and [the group] needs to have educated people."
He said the Hispanic population needs "people who work here and contribute to the county and the city, you know, people who work and pay taxes that enrich the city, not only with the culture, but also by producing something for the benefit of the city."
For Price, commander of Woodland Baptist's Awana ministry, a changing neighborhood won't change what the church is called to do. It just might look different.
"We may have to embrace the fact that we're not catering to, and maybe I shouldn't say this, other white males or females who are like us," Price said. "As a church, we're not here to have fellowship all the time, we're here to go out. That's the Great Commission. And now a lot of these missions are right out here outside our front door, and it's our job to not run away from it."
Madison County, with a population of 98,294 in 2010, is projected to add just over 30,500 people by 2060. More than half of that increase, nearly 19,000 people, will be from an increase in the Hispanic and black populations.
In 2010, Hispanics accounted for 3 percent of the county's population, and blacks accounted for 36 percent.
In 2060, it is projected that the Hispanic population will grow by nearly 8,000 people and will account for 9 percent of the county's population. It is projected that the black population will grow by about 11,100 and will continue to account for 36 percent of the population.
In the same period, Madison County is projected to have fewer whites than in 2010, over 4,000 fewer, dropping from 59 percent of the total population to 42 percent by 2060.
"So in terms of percentages, we're tripling the number of Hispanics, but we're actually adding almost an equal amount of blacks as Hispanics," Phil Davignon, sociology professor at Union University, said.
Davignon said an increased number of interracial marriages and higher fertility rates among blacks and Hispanics will likely fuel part of the increased diversity.
"Because of these reasons, the number of minority births is now greater than the number of white births," he said.
Madison County is expected to see a large increase in people identified in the "two or more" race category, from 1,448 in 2010 to 22,530 in 2060.
"I'm guessing there are those that say, 'I'm some other race [and] I'm Hispanic,'" Davignon said. "And then they're counted as both. Like if one parent is white and one parent is Hispanic, they'll say, 'I'm biracial.'"
Davignon said evidence of increased diversity could be seen in relatively small things such as a Hispanic aisle at the grocery store, but it also could affect larger institutions, such as public education.
"There's a strong demand for private education in Jackson, and I think that an increase in [minorities] might lead to more demand for public education as well," he said.
Sarah Hendricks, a sociology professor at the University of Tennessee at Martin, said population growth and diversity can present challenges, but they also can bring benefits.
More consumers mean an increased demand and more jobs, she said, and more diversity brings new ideas.
Hendricks said increased diversity also can bring a new dynamic to racial issues.
"Diversity could mean rising discrimination with people scapegoating others and trying to find reasons why economic opportunities aren't more readily available," she said.
Madison County Mayor Jimmy Harris said he is confident the county will adapt to its changing population.
"I guess what I would say is that this community has always adjusted to the various mix of people that are here and will continue to do that," Harris said. "I don't think the change of the makeup of our community changes it."
Harris said changes in diversity are natural in the life of a community.
"I think that we change as change is needed and that's gradual over time," he said. "All communities make adjustments over time, and you have to deal with what the reality of the day is. It's a process."
Davignon, the Union professor, said the change will be gradual.
"Jackson is already a very diverse area, and these changes will happen so slowly that I think they will almost be imperceptible," he said.
Source: The Jackson Sun